President Clinton summoned congressional leaders to the White House today to seek tougher measures against a growing threat of terrorism.
"As Americans, we can and must join together to defeat terrorism wherever it strikes and whoever practices it," the president said in a speech to a veterans group Sunday in New Orleans.
Specifically, he said Congress should reverse itself and make it easier to wiretap telephones used by suspected terrorists. And he called for a requirement for putting chemical markers, known as taggants, in explosives to make it easier to track down bomb makers.
The president vowed "to do whatever is necessary to give law enforcement the tools they need to find terrorists before they strike and to bring them swiftly to justice when they do."
To build a case for tougher steps, Clinton invited FBI Director Louis Freeh to today's meeting.
The president said he was encouraged by comments by House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who expressed willingness to consider expanded wiretaps and taggants.
Gingrich, R-Ga., was invited to the meeting, along with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo. All were expected to attend.
Under pressure from liberals and conservatives, Congress dropped the wiretap provision in anti-terrorism legislation Clinton signed April 24. The taggant provision also was watered down.
Gingrich, interviewed on NBC's Meet the Press, said, "I think that we should have a provision that allows us to recognize that we now live in the age of the cellular telephone and allows us to track an individual person." He said the taggant requirement was "a possibility."
The threat of terrorism was Clinton's primary focus as he addressed the 75th annual convention of the Disabled American Veterans.
Before an audience of many World War II veterans, Clinton said, "You know what it is personally to face an enemy. Today, we have an enemy it is difficult to face, because the enemy is so often hidden, killing at random, surfacing only to perform cowardly acts.
"Their aim is to demoralize us as a people and to spread fear into everyday life. We must not let them do that."
The president said "we all are outraged" by the bombing in Atlanta. "We all admire the athletes, the thousands of volunteers, the tens of thousands of fans who made a strong statement to the world yesterday when they showed up and carried on the Olympics, saying that they would not be intimidated by terrorism and that no terrorist could kill the Olympic spirit."
In the aftermath of the TWA explosion and the Atlanta bombing, terrorism has suddenly moved to the front of the nation's domestic agenda, drawing election-year attention from both Clinton and Republican rival Bob Dole.
Clinton made the point that terrorism is a worldwide threat, from the subways of Tokyo to the bomb-shattered streets of Israel and Saudi Arabia.
"We have learned here so painfully in America from the World Trade Center to Oklahoma City that attacks from terrorists can be home grown or can be generated in other lands," the president said.
"We know that nations are beginning to understand that there is no place that is safe when anyplace is vulnerable to terrorism."